It’s no doubt that brands can be a force of positive change. With younger consumers (particularly Generations Zers) demonstrating that social, ethical and environmental causes are a core concern for them, many companies are now using their voice and status to discuss important issues that are impacting the world we live in.
Currently, there are more brands than ever using this as part of their marketing strategy, however, this is not a new phenomenon. Also known as ‘cause marketing’, this is an attempt by brands to sell products whilst also pursuing a better world by shining a spotlight on an important issue, such as climate change, poverty or currently the Australian bushfires. These woke campaigns can produce a range of emotions – from shock to outrage. And this is why they have been at the heart of many memorable and controversial campaigns.
Why is brand activism important?
Failing to keep up with the wants and needs of the consumer can be detrimental for any company. So, to retain and attract loyal customers and staff, strengthen reputation and stand out from the crowd, brands simply have to keep up with social change – especially when marketing to young people.
According to a global survey, 91% of consumers reported they are likely to switch to a brand that supports a good cause. Furthermore, 60% of 16- to 24-year-olds pay more attention to adverts that tackle important social causes, particularly if they align with beliefs they have. Not only this, with 64% of customers around the world prepared to boycott a brand that doesn’t align with their social beliefs, it’s not surprising that more companies are now supporting a worthwhile cause.
Therefore, with most of us (particularly us Generation Zers) being more concerned with the world we live in; companies simply need to also show that they care by using their status to tackle important and stigmatised topics.
Buzzworthy woke marketing examples
In the current competitive and highly political society we live in, a brand has to now demonstrate that they care about world issues to win the hearts of and develop trust with their young consumers.
From Cadbury’s ‘Donate Your Words’ campaign, to Instagram’s ‘Most Liked Egg’, below are examples of some of the best known, popular and quirky campaigns to date. These examples all have a long-term strategy in mind and simply get the basics right by understanding and truly believing in the issue they’re supporting.
Jigsaw: ‘Love Immigration’
In response to Brexit and fearmongering around immigration, back in 2017, fashion retailer Jigsaw created this socially conscious campaign to showcase the importance of diversity.
Challenging the meaning of ‘British’ style, this punchy campaign featured a range of diverse models pictured in a typical Jigsaw-style stately home. It also included a full takeover of Oxford Circus tube station and The Times website, as well as print, social and digital activity.
When explaining the process behind the adverts, Peter Ruis, Jigsaw’s CEO, stated that it was important as it highlights the benefits of immigration, especially to the fashion industry. To support the campaign, this British brand posted a manifesto on their website, emphasising their support of immigration, which was also shared on Twitter.
These adverts proved a hit with consumers and were praised on social media for being a “brave, clever and different” campaign that doesn’t shy away from politics. They also perfectly fit into Jigsaw’s wider move that centred around it having a social purpose as part of its ‘Style and Truth’ ethos launched in 2014.
Instagram: Most liked egg
In 2019, Instagram thought of a genius way to promote a mental-health campaign. When pictures of an egg first started being shared and liked on the site, many believed it only had one aim – to stop Kylie Jenner being the “Queen of Instagram”.
However, this was far from the case! After becoming Instagram’s most liked photo, the egg (also known as Eugene), cracked after “feeling the pressure” of all the attention it received. A caption posted alongside the cracked egg advised people to talk to someone and seek help if they’re experiencing mental health problems, directing them to mentalhealthamerica.net.
New York Times: ‘The truth is hard to find’
In a world full of fake news, this huge multi-media campaign was launched to not only promote the importance of quality journalism and the role of free press, but to also emphasise that the New York Times (NYT) is a trusted source for news.
The first video, which featured at the Oscars (famous for being highly politicised) in 2017, involved a simple black and white design and opened with the words ‘the truth is’. This was created to challenge viewers to question their relationship with truth and fake news, and to more importantly emphasise the ‘why’ of the NYT. The news outlet then used Twitter to boost the video and spark conversation amongst the public.
Following this, the second phase of the campaign explored the ‘how’. In this stage, each film showcases the length and risks journalists go to capture stories, such as the Ebola outbreak. A smart media and PR plan helped spread this campaign nationwide. This involved a series of digital, social and print and a full-page wrap of the NYT Saturday edition.
The campaign was a huge success – in 24 hours, it won more subscribers than the paper had gained in the preceding six weeks. In the second quarter of 2017 the paper achieved more than two million digital-only subscribers – a first for any news organisation. It also received the coveted ‘Best in Show’ prize at the INMA Global Media Awards.
Dove: ‘Real Beauty’
Challenging beauty advertising and thus the portrayal of women within them, this ongoing nationwide campaign encourages people to embrace their natural beauty.
Inspired by Dove and Ogilvy & Mather’s show “Beyond Compare: Women Photographers On Real Beauty’’, Dove’s campaign for real beauty has become one of the biggest and successful conceptual advert campaigns of our time.
Prior to this campaign, which was launched in 2004, beauty adverts generally featured unrealistic images of women – Dove was the first to break this convention.
When launched, this then radical campaign was rewarded with a 700% uplift in sales and a huge brand platform that has created a lasting impact and place in all of our hearts. It’s also expanded from billboards to television adverts and online videos. Most importantly, it’s helped to change the conversation and portrayal of female beauty within the media landscape.
Cadbury: ‘Donate Your Words’
Noticing that loneliness is becoming a huge epidemic amongst the elderly, last year Cadbury, in partnership with Age UK, launched a limited-edition bar, whereby 30p from every purchased chocolate bar was donated to the charity.
As part of the ‘Donate Your Words’ campaign, the chocolate company removed all words from its iconic Diary Milk packaging. To accompany this, Cadbury also released a set of emotive and heart-warming adverts.
The way to a person’s heart is through their stomach after all, so it’s no surprise that this delicious campaign was a success with consumers, with many hailing it as ‘heart-warming’ and ‘thought-provoking’. As Diary Milk chocolate bars are made for sharing, it gave people the perfect excuse to ‘donate their words’ and split the sweet treat with someone in need.
In Australia, Cadbury have now pledged to donate profits from their Caramello Koala, Freddo Frog, and Furry Friends chocolates to help wildlife affected by the devastating bushfires.
Get woke go broke examples – it can go wrong!
There have been a number of brands that have received public backlash and the possibility of boycott for putting their name against a sensitive topic purely to appear ‘woke’, without truly understanding anything about it. However, with more consumers holding companies accountable for their actions, doing this can be detrimental for an organisation’s reputation.
This famous attempt at a woke advert featured Kendal Jenner – a ‘’privileged, white’’ supermodel and reality star acting as a peacemaker between civil rights activists and police. In the advert we see Kendal leave a photoshoot to take part in a peaceful protest, where she quickly hands over a can of Pepsi to a police officer as a peace offering.
In the wake of a rise of political protests over police brutality against black people in America, the company and its ‘tone deaf’ advert was accused of trying to cash in on the Black Lives Matter movement.
The advert faced immediate backlash on social media for missing the mark by trivialising Black Lives Matter. As a result it was pulled after 24 hours and the company issued a public apology. This example ultimately highlights how unsuccessful attempts at getting woke can damage reputation and waste production costs.
As we’ve seen, woke marketing campaigns can be a risky move – especially if it’s seen to be done for a fashionable reason. However, it can also be extremely helpful in future-proofing a business as it’ll win the hearts and minds of younger consumers.
So, as we begin 2020, will your company be integrating woke culture into your own by giving this a go?